The 2011-12 network TV season officially ends tonight at 11, right after the closing credits for “Revenge” and “Law & Order: SVU” have rolled. So for the next few months, the television business goes all “Freaky Friday,” as the broadcast networks trot out their secondary programming — reality shows, imports and other low-cost series — while cable breaks out some of its biggest guns.
Tomorrow, for instance, brings the return of “So You Think You Can Dance” to FOX, and the debut of yet another singing competition show, “Duets,” on ABC, as well as the third season premiere of ABC’s cheap Canadian import cop show “Rookie Blue.” Meanwhile, the next couple of months will see the return of HBO’s “True Blood” (June 10), USA’s “Burn Notice” (June 14), AMC’s “Breaking Bad” (July 15) and the final season of TNT’s “The Closer” (July 9), along with a whole batch of new shows like TNT’s “Dallas” sequel (June 13), Aaron Sorkin’s new HBO drama “The Newsroom” (June 24) and Charlie Sheen’s sitcom comeback with FX’s “Anger Management” (June 28).
That’s a lot for any TV junkie to keep track of, even in the “slow” summer months. Unfortunately, the off-season gets off to a forgettable start with its first new cable offering: the TBS sitcom “Men at Work,” which debuts tomorrow night at 10.
“Men at Work” was created by actor Breckin Meyer, who currently stars in TNT’s “Franklin & Bash,” and the shows share both a bros-will-be-bros theme and a generally lazy quality, full of half-finished jokes and thin characters.
The setting here is a men’s magazine, where best buds Milo (Danny Masterson), Gibbs (James Lesure), Tyler (Michael Cassidy) and Neal (Adam Busch) work, but where they spend most of their time just hanging out and getting into each other’s personal business.
Given a tin-eared subplot in the pilot in which Tyler tries to interview the pretentious star of a “Twilight”-esque movie franchise, the less we see of the men actually being at work, the better. But the personal stuff isn’t significantly better.
We open with Milo being dumped by longtime girlfriend Lisa (Amy Smart, doing a favor for former co-star Meyer), and the other guys spend the rest of the premiere trying to pull him out of his funk. Sample gag: at the office, Gibbs tells Milo not to dwell on the break-up forever, and Milo notes it’s only been an hour so far.
“And yet we’re still talking about it!” Gibbs insists.
Gibbs is a regular font of hacky one-liners like that. Another subplot involves him being attracted to Tyler’s Scandinavian cleaning lady; upon learning her name is Alva, he smiles and says, “Well, Alva be damned!”
None of “Men at Work” is funny, but the greater sin is how uninspired it feels. A comedy doesn’t need a high-concept premise to work — TBS previously gave us a very solid entry in the pals-hanging-out genre with “My Boys” (even the gimmick that the main character was a woman was never the point of anything) — but it needs to have some kind of point of view about its characters and their world, and give you evidence of why you want to hang out right along with them. And the “Men at Work” pilot never offers any of that. The guys smile a lot and laugh at each other’s antics, but it’s forced mirth; there’s never a sense that they actually enjoy each other’s company, or even met before the actors sat down for the table read of the script.
Later episodes try to spice things up with stories where Milo learns to his extreme discomfort what it’s like to be a drug mule, or where Milo and Gibbs get sucked into a devil’s threesome, but the raunchier jokes aren’t any better-constructed than the tamer stuff in the pilot.
TBS has set itself up as the comedy yin to TNT’s drama yang, but most of its success in the arena has come from outside sources, be it the Tyler Perry shows (which Perry’s company largely makes on its own) or off-network repeats of shows like “The Big Bang Theory” and “The Office.” Starting sometime next year, the channel will become home to new episodes of “Cougar Town” after ABC canceled it; that’s a terrific comedy, but another one that originated outside the Turner development process. (For that matter, “Conan” is essentially Conan O’Brien continuing to do “The Tonight Show” after leaving NBC.) The “Big Bang” repeats and Perry sitcoms are doing strong business for TBS, but it’s clear the channel would like to introduce an in-house flagship sooner or later. “Men at Work” isn’t that show, and seems likely to get quickly lost in the flood of original programming this summer.
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org